So an early morning, a much needed double espresso and a half pack of chocolate coffee beans heralded my first Grad School course this morning, in communication skills. This was actually as very useful half day course for me to take, seeing as in all honesty, astrochemistry is a rather esoteric subject in many ways.
So the talk kicked off with research proposals, and what they involve. Explaining your work seems to be quite a major part, inluding explaining to the lay person, avoiding jargon and scientific precision. Much of this is, admittedly, counterintuitivfe to a scientist, where in most publications, you’re expected to include as much detail as possible. When communicating to the public, however, broad generalisations can be necessary in order to get your point across. Furthermore, research councils care about news stories and public relations. They care about the public knowing how they’re spending their money, and raising the profile of your work, by discussing it publicly and generating interest and awareness is good for everyone involved.
Also, judging your audience and presenting at the right level is important. Whether your presenting to school kids, other academics or the general public, takie a moment to gauge your audience and what they already know about the subject (by asking them if need be). More importantly, how to relate to your audience and be diplomatic, especially in research areas that might be controversial or cause general feelings of shock and horror.
Finally, portrayals in media and fiction are definitely worth being aware of, as unless someone has any reason to know better, they’ll accept most facts at face value. If someone writes a thriller novel about nanotechnology, people will tend to believe that nanotechnology is scary and to be shunned. Of course, the novel may be nonsense, but it’s the portrayal that’s important.
In short, I do now know a hell of a lo0t more about communicating scientific work, to scientists and non-scientists. Always aim to give too much information rather than not enough, avoid confusing your audience with jargon and acronyms and don’t let the media push you around. Finally, when you’re presenting yourself, always remember: “Uncertainty is the sign of a good scientist”.